Fire Starting – Hand Drill

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Using a hand drill is one of the oldest and simplest methods of starting a fire. This method is probably best suited for dry climates, as it will take some work to rotate the spindle enough to create an ember.

fire drill method of Fire starting

Follow these steps to use the Hand Drill Method

  1. Make sure you have a tinder bundle prepared for when you get an ember.
  2. Cut a V-shaped notch in a board, then start a small depression with your knife tip. Set a piece of bark, or a big leaf underneath the notch to catch your ember.
  3. Place the spindle, which should be about two feet in length, in the depression. Then, while maintaining a good amount of downward pressure, roll the stick between the palms of your hands, running them very quickly down the stick.
  4. Keep doing this until the spindle tip glows red and you get an ember.
  5. Tap the board to get the ember onto your leaf or piece of bark, then transfer it over to your tinder bundle and blow it until you get a flame.

Responses to " Fire Starting – Hand Drill " Please share your thoughts...

  1. Ikarn says:

    A very good method but I think you shoud use a bow to spin the spindle

  2. Wolfgang says:

    There is much talk about this technique but no one ever shows how long it takes to make an ember. Also, it tears your hands up. Why are you not showing the use of a bow?

  3. ztar says:

    on tv they make it look like seconds but it could take all day just to get the wood to smoke.

  4. free says:

    ive tried and all i can get is smoke and bloody hands. i think its to humid here. the only way i got it to work was by chucking the stick in my screw gun. and even then it took about three minutes.

  5. James says:

    Its REALLY important to have the right woods. I got a hand-drill set from a friend, both pieces made of Yucca, and I’ve made 3 fires from it (my first hand-drill fires EVER). If its all set up, it takes me about 3 – 4 minutes to get an ember.

  6. Nick says:

    Yes, the wood is pretty important, especially matching your spindle and floorboard from the same tree or better yet the same log. When I worked at a Scout camp in the Midwest, they had this program called Firecrafter where one of the requimements was to build a 15 minute fire-by-friction from boys 13-18. They used the bow-drill method but not quite what’s shown here. They had a shorter spindle (ankle to knee) and used a gripping log called the thunder head and put their body weight onto it. It took the boys a few days go get an ember/’spark’, but many of us staff were able to do it in under 10 minutes due to sheer practice. They exclusively used Red “slippery” elm.

  7. Danny - Middle Tennessee says:

    The main point, as always, is to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. I always carry a lighter in my pocket, but I can consistently get fire with a bow drill or a hand drill. Sometimes in as little as 10 seconds with a hand drill. I’m always glad to teach this to anyone who wants to learn. I live near Murfreesboro, TN for anyone who is interested.

    • David Mashburn says:

      Would really like to learn how to do the one stick
      fire but too far away(Mills River, NC) Would be
      interested what spindle material is available here
      in Western NC that would work.

  8. northernbushcrafter says:

    Wood selection downward pressure and speed is key to the hand drill as far as it being easy like the article states I would have to say that it is not, but with the proper training and materials it can be. My first ember with a hand drill was basswood and red cedar there are a lot of good woods to use sotol and yucca being the easiest but that can spoil you.

  9. northernbushcrafter says:

    Like I said sotol and yucca are the easiest woods to use but their so easy they may spoil you when you need to step up and use a harder wood. I live in pa and there are tons of linden or basswood here that’s what I use also all cedars are great and alot of people like plants for their spindles like cat tail,horse weed, mullien, anything with a pith I’ve used the baby chutes off a box elder before as well other woods are willows elms cottonwood balsam fir tamarack cypress white pine buckeye elderberry paw paw and I’ve seen a video where a guy used a clematis vine.

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